People & Culture

Ray Zahab – Pushing the limits

Episode 59

The Canadian adventurer discusses his experience battling cancer and traversing across the Paalik Valley in February 

  • May 09, 2023
Ray Zahab completing his Baffin Island Expedition across the Paalik Valley. (Photo: Howie Stern)
Expand Image

“I’ve done a lot of hard things. At last count, I think I’ve done 33 or 34 expeditions, and I would say this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Chemo and the monoclonal therapy that I was doing… I was a mess. I would build myself up (between treatments) over the course of a few weeks, where I’d have a seven or ten-day decent period where I would go and do stuff. I was on Baffin Island in February, across the Paalik Valley, a combination of skiing, trekking and snowmobile. Doing it!”

Ray Zahab during his Baffin Island Expedition in the Paalik Valley (left) beside another image of Zahab during his chemotherapy treatment at Gatineau Hospital. (Photo: Howie Stern (left) and photo courtesy of Ray Zahab)
Expand Image

When Ray Zahab says something is the hardest thing he’s ever done, you know that means it was unbelievably hard. He’s coming off a battle with cancer in which he somehow managed to work in an expedition in the Canadian Arctic at the coldest time of the year. Ray Zahab is not just a friend of this podcast, he’s a friend. We’re about the same age, we live near each other in the Gatineau Hills, and we’ve had a lot of laughs together, usually over coffee on my front porch.

Like many people, I was worried and saddened to learn about his cancer diagnosis last year. Like many, I was then even more concerned about his decision to go ahead with a Baffin Island expedition in February, in between chemo treatments.

And I also know this. Ray is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. 

He is someone who faces risks head-on and weighs dangers from every possible angle. He’s set records for getting to the South Pole on foot and for running across deserts in the blazing summer heat. He has carried out expeditions in the harshest environments on the planet. Ray’s decisions around his cancer treatment were done in close consultation with his doctors and family.

It’s not likely what most of us would have chosen. It worked for him.

This is his story to tell. He does so beautifully. 


Are you passionate about Canadian geography?

You can support Canadian Geographic in 3 ways:

Related Content

People & Culture

Winter running with Ray Zahab

If given the choice, Ray Zahab would pick heat over cold any day. But that didn’t stop him from walking to the South Pole…

  • 636 words
  • 3 minutes


Ray Zahab

Episode 1

Royal Canadian Geographical Society Explorer-in-Residence Ray Zahab discusses his 2019 Trans-Kamchatka expedition and other extreme marathon adventures.

  • 52 minutes
Canadian ultrarunner Ray Zahab, with his beard full of ice, against a snowy mountain backdrop


Canadian ultrarunner embarks on expedition across Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula

Ray Zahab, an Explorer-in-Residence of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, and Italian ultrarunner Stefano Gregoretti will traverse an unpredictable landscape of volcanoes and snow 

  • 607 words
  • 3 minutes

People & Culture

Gearing up with Ray Zahab

How the elite distance runner combats the cold

  • 242 words
  • 1 minutes